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I’ve fished for carp in lakes for just about as long as I can remember. Some sessions have brought me great memories and some fantastic fish to over 40lb. In recent years though I’ve been intrigued by river carp fishing. The fact that nobody can be sure of what’s swimming around in front of you! Fish with no names that might have travelled miles. This heightened sense of mystery has become quite addictive. My 2019 season has started well, and I’ve been lucky to get amongst some stunners from the River Lea.

River carp fishing
Above: A stunning scatter scale linear carp from the River Lea a few years ago.

In previous years I’ve managed to catch some nice carp from the River Lea. You can read about this in my previous article – Carp Fishing on the River Lea. When June 16th came round, I was mad keen to get back on the river; however, the carp didn’t show up. I was temporarily distracted by perch and chub for a couple of sessions before having a stern word with myself and getting back on track with my river carp fishing. A couple more blanks and I decided that I needed to go and find them. One evening I decided to go looking on my bike, no fishing gear just me, the bike and miles of towpath. I found some fish a few miles from home, and I decide to return to that spot the next morning.

Stalking carp
Above: Time to get mobile. Time to find some carp!

The next morning I strapped what I needed to the bike, and I was off! I returned to exactly the same spot that I’d seen the fish the evening before. I got what fishing gear I needed off the bike and placed a rig with a small amount of bait just where I’d seen the fish. I was only fishing one rod as that’s all I could fit on the bike. After about 25minutes a fish rolled about 40 yards up the river on my left. As quick as a flash, I reeled the rod in and moved everything up to where I’d seen the fish roll.

Very quickly, the trap was in place, and I didn’t have to wait long! Within 20 minutes it ripped off, and I was connected to my first carp of the 2019 season. These river carp are brutal! The fight was incredible, but eventually, I managed to pull a cracking mirror over the net cord.

River Lea Carp
Above: A single trap was enough to catch my first river carp of the 2019 season.

It was early morning, and the usual joggers and dog walkers stopped to admire the fish, something that was clearly alien to them. A few self takes, and it was time to release her back into the river, after explaining to a few onlookers (once again) that I wasn’t going to eat it.

Towpath carp fishing

It’s worth mentioning that all my sessions were early morning, between 5am – 8:30am and nearly always before work. This is when the river is at it’s quietest. I’m not really interested in fishing it when there’s loads of bikes and dogs and the general circus that starts to appear from 8am onwards. Certainly, by 8:30am I’ve handed the river back to the general public, but before then it belongs to us – the anglers.

daiwa gs gold reels
Above: Early season river carp fishing

It was about a week later that I returned to the same stretch on the river. This time I decided not to cast out until I saw something. I cycled up and down the stretch and eventually found a few fish. A couple baits were placed in a couple of likely looking spots, and I sat back. Again, the rod was away within a half-hour. These fish will take a bait and often quite quickly. They are wild fish that have to be much more opportunistic than their lake counterparts. The lake fish are regularly fed most days by anglers. These fish have to fend for themselves, and therefore I believe that if you find them then, depending on the time of year, they will move onto your bait quite readily.

Anyway, the single rod bent around in the rests. I nearly always fish fairly locked up on the river. It’s gnarly and full of god knows what! What followed was the most incredible fight I’ve had from a carp. Fortunately, this stretch hasn’t got much flow; otherwise, I think I would have really struggled with this powerful fish. When it finally came to the surface, I could see why I was beaten up so bad. A long, mean, immaculate looking common was the culprit. Eventually, it was in the net, and I slumped back and took a few moments before peering into the net and a rather special fish.

River Lea Carp Fishing
Above: Does it get any better. River carp fishing at it’s best.

These early-season sessions were kept very short. Never more than a few hours, and I was only ever fishing for a single bite. No pre-baiting but trying to find fish and then laying small traps on the deck to get a bite.

A week or so later, I was back. By now I could ditch the bike and fish with two rods. I had found an area where they were holding up, and so I didn’t need to be as mobile. I could walk the stretch, still with very little gear, and set my traps once I’d located them. This time the signs were much more subtle. I could see bubblers hitting the surface alongside a barge that was parked on the near bank. Certain parts of this stretch are quite silty. Silt can really be your friend. When fish are feeding in silt, they go right up to the gills in it to feed on naturals. This releases way more air than if they were feeding on a clean bottom or gravel. These bubblers were a clear give away to the location of the carp.

The two rods were placed. One was cast to the left, mid-river but the right-hand rod was placed near the boat, within yards of the bubblers. I didn’t want to cast right on top of the bubblers as there was definitely fish underneath and I didn’t want to drop a rig right on their heads and risk spooking them. It was no surprise that it was this right-hand rod that tore off shortly after. This fish moved very quickly, almost too quickly for a carp. At first, it had me confused! Was it a crazy chub or something weird? But no, it was a carp and an absolute banger too! When it rolled in front of me, I could see that this was very special indeed. Not big, but then if I were after big carp I’d be sat on the syndicate lake. A flank that was covered in pear sliced scales rolled over the net. I gasped as I stood there, looking into the net at what could be one of the most special carp I’ve ever caught in 30years of carp fishing.

River carp fishing
Above: Wow, just wow. And this is why we fish for carp in rivers.

What an incredible looking creature. Rows of polished mirror plated scales were worn like armour in this tough environment. My beloved River Lea had, once again, handed me something very special indeed. Probably only a low double but still a fish I’ll remember for a very long time. Catching it from the river made it even more special.

River carp fishing
Above: Blessed to have encounter this stunning river creature.
Carp fishing
Above: A close up along it’s flank. Unreal.

By now we were heading into mid-July. I only had a couple of weeks left before the kids break up from school, and the holiday season begins. My river carp fishing was going to become more infrequent due to a few holidays and a festival planned. The fish started to become more challenging to locate. I decided that if I couldn’t actually see the fish, then I’d try covering as many spots as possible in my short sessions. No more than 45mins in each spot, so before work, I could hit maybe 3 swims before it was time to head off.

towpath carpers
Above: 45mins in each swim, trying to locate the fish which had become more tricky to find.

A couple of blank sessions followed. I started to wonder if they’d moved on and that maybe it was time to jump back on the bike! Instead, I began to travel even lighter and simply walk a bit further. This method of fishing lots of spots eventually came good. As I looked down on a meaty looking mirror, I knew that I would be away from the river for a couple of weeks at least.

stalking carp on rivers
Above: Not a typical looking river carp but still very welcome indeed after a few blanks.

So it was time to be with the family. The summer was in full swing, and we were being blessed with some fantastic sunshine. We had a few short breaks booked and were looking forward to a party with friends and family at Camp Bestival down in Dorset. I love the Jurassic coast and always enjoy the combination of a shed load of music and camping! I didn’t miss the river. I was too busy sitting in a field with friends, drinking beer and listening to loads of decent bands and DJs. Besides, I’d be back pestering the river inhabitants soon enough!

river carp angling
Above: River carp fishing, where it’s less about style and more about fishing!

As summer started to come to an end the river carp fishing got a bit tougher. They were certainly harder to locate and I had to go through a few blanks in August before getting lucky on one of my short early morning sessions. It was late August and I had arrived at the river around 5:45am. It wasn’t getting light as early now, I knew I only had a couple of hours or so to make it happen before I had to head home. I fished a few swims in short space of time. 45mins in a spot and then it was time to move, hoping to locate them by dropping into multiple spots and setting little traps.

I sat behind the rods when the left gave a single beep. I watched the line as it cut through the water as the fish kited to my right in this narrow stretch of river. The alarm didn’t sound but I could see by the line that the bait had been picked up! I lifted the rod and bent into what was obviously a decent fish. The stretch is fairly shallow and I caught a glimpse of the fish quite early in the fight, and it was a decent one – almost certainly a River Lea PB. It kept fighting for ages. Not fast movements like the smaller fish but just using it’s weight and not giving up. I was preying for the hook to stay in. I was playing it very carefully, I really wanted this one. Eventually it rolled into the net. When I looked in I could see it was 20lb + for sure. On the scales it went 21lb 14oz. A 20 pounder from the River Lea … I was absolutely over the moon with this fish. Unreal.

Big Carp River Lea
Above: Completed it! My target of a River Lea 20 was done. 21lb 14oz.

I was very lucky as a guy called Richard was talking along the towpath just as I was setting up for the self-takes. He offered to take some photos. Initially I thanked him but said that I was OK doing my self takes. I’m pretty good at them these days, all the pictures in this article are self-takes. But then he mentioned that he was a carp angler himself … well that kinda changes things ๐Ÿ™‚ He clearly knew how to take a photo, so if you read this – thanks Richard!

Carp Fishing River Lea
Above: The other side. An autumn cracker from the River Lea.

In recent years I’ve switched focus in August, to barbel and maybe chub. This year I’m glad I stuck to chasing these magnificent river carp. They’ve got under my skin and just love the fact that it’s so different from the carp that reside in lakes. Having said that, part of me also want to hit the syndicate, something I’ve not really done yet this year. At the time of writing, I’ve also just bought some little surface lures for chub. That’s something else that I’ve not done much of – lure fishing for chub. Maybe I’ll do that!? Oh my god, there’s just too many options. One thing you can be sure of – I’ll be out fishing. That’s something that will never change

Thanks for reading my article on river carp fishing. I hope it inspires you to have a crack. If you do or if you don’t – be lucky and enjoy your fishing ๐Ÿ™‚

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